How to put together a medium value telescope package for a beginner amateur astronomer

How to put together a medium value telescope package for a beginner amateur astronomer

Celestron NexStar 6 SE Schmidt-Cassegrain Reflector Telescope

Celestron NexStar 6 SE Schmidt-Cassegrain Reflector Telescope

This article came together when I helped one of our customers to answer the question of how to put together a medium value telescope package for him who was a beginner amateur astronomer.

Again, I was spending too much time on one email (not unusual), so I thought I’d better write it up properly to help other beginners as well who think of buying their first serious telescope package and can spend about £700 to £1000.

Choosing a telescope

This is not a definitive answer of course, just an example of possible choices. Our customer was already thinking of the Celestron Nexstar 5 SE or Nexstar 6 SE, but needed some advice to make his mind up.

So, the main differences between the 5 SE and 6 SE are the obvious difference in size and the probably less obvious built in wedge in the mount of the 5 SE, whilst the mount of the 6 SE is more heavy duty, but still quite lightweight and mobile, so there is no danger that you’ll easily abandon this scope as sometimes sadly happens with very large telescopes…

Basically, the 5 SE can be converted into an equatorial mount by the help of the built in wedge that makes it slightly more usable for somewhat longer exposure astro photography. So go for the 5 SE if you have some plans for deep sky astrophotography, but if your main photographic objects are planets and the Moon and visual observation of deep sky objects, then it’s better to keep it simple with the slightly bigger 6 SE which will give better resolving power and you’ll see somewhat more objects through it due to the bigger aperture…

Since I wrote this article, Celestron came out with their latest technology, the Nexstar Evolution series, that features WiFi connectivity and control from a tablet or smartphone. The 6″ version, the Nexstar Evolution 6 is just at the top edge of the budget that this article is aiming at…

Recommended accessories are a 7 Ah power tank, a dew shield/lens shade (that is very helpful in the UK due to the usually high level of moisture in the air), probably a set of eyepieces/filters that is always very good value. Alternatively, if you prefer higher quality eyepieces, you could also consider going for one or two extra eyepieces of better quality. Please note, the new Nexstar Evolution telescopes come with a built-in rechargeable battery, so you’ll be able to save about £60 on that…

Celestron Nexstar Evolution 6

Celestron Nexstar Evolution 6

Choosing eyepieces

Here are couple of eyepiece kits:

Teleskop Service Eyepiece and Accessory Kit

Celestron Eyepiece and Filter Kit 1.25 in

Baader Classic Q-Eyepiece Set

or instead of the kits, depending on your budget, you could chose 1, 2 or 3 extra eyepieces of a quality matching your budget:

Here are couple of recommended good quality eyepieces for planets at comparatively high magnification

5mm – The Planetary Eyepiece

6mm – The Planetary Eyepiece

8mm – The Planetary Eyepiece

or even better quality Celestron or Baader eyepieces:

Celestron X-Cel LX 5 mm Eyepiece – 1.25 inch

Celestron X-Cel LX 12 mm Eyepiece – 1.25 inch

Baader Hyperion Eyepiece 8mm

Baader Hyperion Eyepiece 17mm

Adding a Barlow lens

However, if you decide to go for separate eyepieces, then I’d also recommend one good quality Barlow lens as well (it multiplies the focal length of your telescope, so with one set of eyepieces plus a Barlow you can achieve more magnifications…):

GSO 2.5x Achromatic 3-Element Barlow ( 31.7mm, 1.25 )

Celestron X-Cel LX 2x Barlow Lens 1.25-inch

There is a trick I should mention here about Barlow lenses that will work nicely with any of the above telesopes… You may use the Barlow lens before or after the star diagonal. For example, if you use it before the star diagonal, a 2x Barlow will give you approximately 2.75x magnification and when you use it after the diagonal it’ll give you the nominal 2x magnification. So with 1 eyepiece and 1 Barlow, you can achieve 3 different magnifications (the third one is when used without the Barlow, if you wonder…)

What filters?

One of the most frequently observed objects is of course the Moon, therefore it’s no surprise that we are being asked very frequently what sort of filter to use to observe the otherwise very bright Moon. The best way to reduce its brightness is by one of the available variable polarising filters:

BST Variable Polarising Filter 1.25-inch with Eyepiece Holder

BST Variable Polarising Filter 1.25-inch with Eyepiece Holder

BST Variable Polarising Filter 1.25-inch with Eyepiece Holder

SkyWatcher Variable Polarising Filter (1.25″)

or if you are after something more budget, a simple green moon filter would also do to start with:

Moon Filter – 1.25″

Now, once you have all the above accessories, don’t forget that the most important thing is your eyes, so to use it in the best possible way, keep your head and eyes in full darkness, away from white light sources for as long as possible, but at least for 20-30 minutes. Have a look around in your shed, maybe you can find a piece of black weed control fabric, this is lightweight and doesn’t let through street lights and light from neighbouring houses… (Forgot about the above if it’s full Moon, just observe the Moon ;o)

If you are in a heavily light polluted area, then a light pollution filter might be helpful to improve contrast as well…

Castell UHC Deepsky Filter for 1.25-Inch Eyepieces

Baader UHC-S / L-Booster Filter 1.25″

Skywatcher Light Pollution Filter 1.25″

To see more at night

When you have to look at a map or a magazine’s monthly insert during your observations, use a red light source to keep your eyes’ night vision intact:

Torches Flashlights Headlights

Article by Zoltan Trenovszki

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Posted on January 23rd, 2014.